High Park Fire Still Going Strong

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Fire crews are up against a troubling forecast today of more hot temperatures and gusty winds as they continue to battle the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins. The lighting caused blaze has now blackened more than 43,000 acres and claimed one life. KUNC’s Kirk Siegler has been following the fire from the LaPorte area northwest of Fort Collins, and has this report.

Reporter Kirk Siegler: Fire crews took advantage of yesterday’s cooler temperatures and calmer winds.

The skies above the normally sleepy little towns of LaPorte and Bellvue buzzed with a steady parade of choppers and planes dropping water and fire retardant on the flames in the nearby foothills. While the forecast over the next few days is concerning, fire managers are quick to point out that roughly a third of the nation’s current firefighting resources are now here in northern Colorado.

Forest Service Spokesman Steve Segin: It’s going to get warmer and drier, however the winds aren’t predicted to be as extreme as they were.

Reporter: And the US Forest Service’s spokesman Steve Segin says the sheer man power on the blaze now is a far cry from this past weekend – when that searing heat, erratic winds and extremely dry fuels caused the fire to race up and down mountainsides. Still, Segin says it will take some time to even contain the blaze.

Segin: And once you start building line, you can start tying it all together, essentially it’s connecting the dots, dot to dot to dot, and before long we will have a line all the way around this fire, we just don’t know when it’s going to be.

Reporter: Imagine having to dig, in most cases by hand, a fire line all the way around the perimeter of the city of Fort Collins and keep a wildfire from getting outside of it. That’s what crews are up against on the massive High Park Fire. Once they’ve built a line around it – that’s 100% containment. But even when that happens, it’s by no means under control.

Segin: We haven’t turned the corner yet on this however we have made progress.

Reporter: The Forest Service tries to squash all wildfires that are human-caused, and most lighting-caused blazes like this one that are near homes. But the agency’s century-long legacy of suppressing fires in areas like the Front Range - not to mention the current drought - have made conditions ripe for so-called catastrophic, un-natural wildfires. There’s little that can be done to stop blazes this big, and incident commander Bill Hahnenberg worries it’s going to be a long summer.

Hahnenberg: We’re going to have those conditions here in Colorado until we either get the monsoons which sometimes we get in early July, or until fall conditions set in, so we know we’re in this for at least a few weeks, and possibly until fall.

Reporter: Hahnenberg was speaking at the media briefing area which is normally a small wildlife park on the outskirts of Bellvue.

Reporter: It’s now home to a bustling scene of satellite TV trucks, fire information officers clad in yellow fire-proof shirts and green pants, and often a few of the fire’s estimated 2,000 evacuees, who come looking for news.

John Morris: We came down here to get the post from the post office, and we saw this, so we thought, yeah, let’s see when the briefing is.

Reporter: John and Beth Morris live at the entrance to nearby Poudre Canyon, and have been out of their home since Sunday. They left with two car loads of important documents and cherished photos.

John Morris: We’re very fortunate, we took some pictures which we’ve blown up and looked at on the computer and our house is still standing. The fire came very close but it didn’t destroy the house and it didn’t destroy the outbuildings. Beth Morris: Thank goodness to the firefighters.

Reporter: The Morris’s are like many evacuees who say they understand the consequences of living in fire-prone forests along the arid Front Range. But for others who still don’t know whether their homes are standing, patience is wearing thin. Tuesday was another day of high drama. Just as word came that some were being allowed to return to homes near the Horsetooth Reservoir, new evacuation orders were announced for the Pengree Park area on the fire’s remote northwestern side.

See other fire news here.